I was never one to get overly excited about birthdays. Since turning 40, in particular, each passing year was not something I relished celebrating. That was before D-Day. My 44th birthday yesterday was quite different to all the ones that preceded it.
Someone asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I replied, joking (but not really), that all I wanted for my birthday is another birthday. It seems strange to me now that I used to regard birthdays with mild annoyance. It was as though their sole purpose was to reiterate how far removed I was from the full flush of youth, when health and optimism were in abundance.
It’s funny how it takes something like a diagnosis of cancer to shake you out of the drudgery of mundane, everyday routines and to understand your place in the universe. I now value birthdays for what they really are – a celebration of another year of life – not a countdown to old age and death. Indeed, it now seems to me that when we moan about getting old, we completely miss the point. Old age is a gift, not to be taken for granted. I used to joke that what I wanted to be ‘when I grow up’ is a dirty old man. That is still my goal but it’s not so much a joke as it used to be.
In an effort to establish whether my cancer has spread and to what extent if it has, I had my bone scan today. This is of paramount importance to me. The initial diagnosis of prostate cancer is one thing but this and the MRI will quantify it, giving me a better indication of my chances of survival. The scan itself was quite straightforward. My appointment was for 08:30 and I was back out on Eccles Street at 08:42, so no problem with long waiting times there. I was given an injection of radioactive material and this needed two hours to be absorbed by my bones.
There were no side-effects and I was free to leave the hospital for the couple of hours. Breakfast called so I had a thoroughly unhealthy full Irish (cholesterol is the least of my concerns these days), followed by a visit to the Irish Cancer Society kiosk in the foyer of the hospital. I picked up a few more booklets about radiotherapy, the emotional effects of cancer and talking to children about cancer. The ICS nurse was very helpful and told me about a Prostate Cancer Conference in Croke Park on 5th November. I will be attending that if I am not in hospital for surgery at the time.
Karma demands that if I get through this I must give something back. So my plan for the conference is to learn as much as I can about the available supports for prostate cancer patients and their families, draw what I can for my own case and to find out how I can make my contribution later. It is a pity that it takes a diagnosis of my own to get me off my arse and doing something proactive. I have a new found respect and admiration for people who freely give of themselves for the benefit of others, in whatever cause.
Now that my bones were nice and radioactive, it was time to return to the Nuclear Medicine Department for the scan. I have to say that I found it very efficiently run and I did not have to wait long before finding myself lying in the scanner. It was not as intimidating as the MRI machine, being smaller, less confined and relatively silent. The scan would take about twenty minutes, as the machine moved slowly from my head to my feet, seeking out concentrations of radioactivity in my bones, where it would indicate a presence of cancer cells.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my skeleton being progressively revealed on a computer monitor. With my layman’s untrained eye, I strained to discern anything that looked like a hot spot. Head, shoulders, rib cage – so far so good. The abdominal area looked brighter than I would have expected and I could clearly see my kidneys. As this was a bone scan, I was concerned about seeing my kidneys lit up like Christmas trees and I have recently been feeling some mild discomfort in the area. I imagine that the kidneys could be ‘riddled’ and the thought of a potential regime of dialysis or waiting for a transplant is unsettling. There isn’t anyone in the room with me at the time so it will be the first thing I ask about when the scan completes.
The staff who appeared were all very pleasant and my question about the prominence of my kidneys is answered. It’s perfectly normal and nothing to worry about. The kidneys are supposed to show up like this and it is why I will have to drink as much fluid as I can over the next 24 hours, to flush out the radioactive material. The nuke med staff were at pains to stress that they are not doctors nor trained to interpret the scan result – that is Prof. FitzPatrick’s job. However, they see hundreds of these scans and as far as they could see, my bones look normal.
Oh Happy Day! Medical professionals can be infuriatingly non-committal so it was encouraging to hear this opinion, albeit with a disclaimer. There is a risk that the medical team who will officially analyse the scan may take a different view. But after waiting this long for more details, I will grasp with both hands any lifeline that’s thrown my way.
I have been feeling ‘odd’ in my abdominal area recently and actually very worried indeed about what the scans may reveal. There is a danger when you have a serious illness that you attribute undue significance to every little ache and pain. With middle age now upon me, I have to remind myself to be circumspect and not jump to conclusions. I am still awaiting with bated breath an appointment to meet Prof. FitzPatrick and discuss my treatment in greater detail.
In the meantime and for the rest of the day, I am to avoid pregnant women and young children because I will be emitting radiation to a radius of about two metres. I have never been radioactive before and wonder if I will acquire superhero powers or whether my piss will glow in the dark. Probably not. I consider myself to have already received my share of good fortune today!